BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- Louisiana's utility regulatory agency Wednesday revived a planned statewide energy efficiency program — but delayed implementation to work on program modifications.
The Louisiana Public Service Commission has gone back and forth on the program, approving it in December, then shelving it in February. Wednesday's vote restarts conversation about the program, rather than jettisoning it entirely.
The program would offer incentives to people to make their homes and businesses more energy-efficient, but the incentive costs would be passed along to all customers of the power companies.
Supporters said any costs would be more than offset by the utility rate savings because of efficiencies created in the way power is delivered and used. They said 46 other states have energy efficiency programs, and they said the programs inject money into a state's economy, create new jobs and help consumers.
Critics said the program is too costly and shouldn't be mandatory, describing it as a tax on all utility customers for the benefit of some who can take advantage of the incentive programs.
Commissioner Scott Angelle was the swing vote Wednesday, agreeing to revive the initiative, but saying he wants more public comment time and modifications to the program before he'll vote for it to begin.
"There's a lot of things about energy efficiency that I like. I'm concerned about who's paying for it and the transparency of it," said Angelle, whose district includes parts of Baton Rouge and Lafayette.
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy ran a scenario of what an energy efficiency program would look like in Louisiana based on programs in other Southern states.
R. Neal Elliott, research director for the organization, said a typical residential customer would pay about 47 cents more on an average $103 utility bill, while a typical commercial customer would see a price hike of about $5.41 on an average $1,188 monthly bill.
Elliott said those customers would see an estimated 5 percent savings on electricity by 2020 and 16 percent savings ten years later. He said the net utility bill savings to all customers over the life of an energy efficiency program running through 2030 was estimated to reach $4.2 billion.
Commissioner Foster Campbell, who represents northwest Louisiana, supported reinstating the energy program. He said the subsidies to become more energy efficient would help the poor who can't afford to make such investments.
"It makes sense. It helps people who can't help themselves. And if it costs 47 cents a month, big deal. It's worth every penny of it," he said.
PSC Chairman Eric Skrmetta, who represents the suburban New Orleans area, said the program should be self-sustaining, not a charge on monthly utility bills. He said the existence of subsidy programs drives the cost of energy efficiency products higher.
"This is not a freebie. It doesn't exist. This is a tax on people to provide energy efficient light bulbs and thermostats and insulation ... and it is borne by the ratepayer," Skrmetta said.
A first phase of the program, as currently envisioned, wouldn't include customers of municipal-managed utilities and other electric distribution cooperatives. Big industrial utility customers, like chemical plants, aren't included in the program.
Angelle, Campbell and Lambert Boissiere III, of New Orleans, voted to revive the energy efficiency program. Skrmetta and Clyde Holloway, who represents central Louisiana, voted against it.